When millions of American voters go to the polls this fall to vote for candidates for Congress, the vast majority of their votes won't matter at all.
It is an idea that contradicts the idea of the US government: that politicians are accountable to the people. But the United States is about to have a shockingly low number of competitive seats in the US House of Representatives, an alarming trend that makes governing difficult and exacerbates political polarization.
So far, states have redrew 327 of the 435 districts in the US House of Representatives as part of the 10-year redraw process, and the number of competitive districts is shrinking. Only 26 of those districts are considered highly competitive, meaning both parties are less than five points ahead in them.
When redistricting is complete, there could be 30 to 35 competitive seats, predicted Dave Wasserman, a bipartisan redistricting expert. This could put up to 94% of the US House of Representatives in relatively safe seats.
As the number of competitive seats falls, so does the number of super-safe seats. The number of seats Donald Trump won in 2020 from 54 to 70 has increased by at least 15 points since mid-January, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The number of precincts backing Biden by at least 15 points increased from 20 to 23.
Competition in the US house has been on the decline for decades. Some of the decline can be attributed to the natural geographic classification of like-minded voters who choose to live together. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting, there were 66 districts that were competitive, Wasserman said. As of 2020, 51 districts were considered competitive.
But politicians are also using their power to draw county lines to exacerbate the lack of competition.
“The seats of the competition are the grease that runs the machinery of the house. And we've seen the decimation of competitive terrain in the last few decades," Wasserman said.
“Redistricting is accelerating this decline and removing many of the incentives for parties to recruit candidates with broad appeal. The House will be less skewed in favor of the Republicans, but it will also become more ossified because there will be more secure seats than ever, and the battlefield will become narrower,” he added.
It's a trend that is likely to have a profound impact on American politics. Instead of worrying about appealing to voters during a general election, candidates are pushed to the edge of their parties and focus more on fending off major challengers. It also discourages compromise and bipartisanship, instead giving politicians incentives to flaunt their ideological good faith.
"I'm very concerned about what happened," said Richard Pildes, a New York University law professor who speaks about the dangers of uncompetitive midterm elections. "The more members that are in safe seats, the more able they are to act like these kinds of independent politicians with free agents...it could make the House even more ungovernable." one of the most in US history.
The lack of competition, Pildes noted, also makes the US House of Representatives less responsive to changes in voter preferences. "You can change voter preferences at three points and it won't affect who gets elected," he said.
No state has seen a greater decline in competition during the reallocation cycle than Texas. Republicans recognized Democrats' gains in the state in recent years and used their redistricting power to reshape county lines to shore up vulnerable seats. They reduced the number of competition districts in the state from 12 to just one. They increased the number of strong and safe Republican seats, which would have led Trump by at least 15 points, from 11 to 21. They also increased the number of strong Democratic seats from eight to 12.
One of the best examples of this approach is the way Republicans have redrawn the state's 24th electoral district, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The district is represented by Beth Van Duyne, a Republican who narrowly won the 2020 general election. Republicans reshaped the district so that Trump would have easily won by 12 points in 2020.